Kate Juggles Fact and Fiction

Kate Flora
Kate Flora


(An interview reprinted from Jungle Red Writers  http://www.jungleredwriters.com/2014/09/kate-flora-juggles-facts-and-fictions.html )

HALLIE EPHRON: The fall harvest of wonderful books includes a bounty from Kate Flora: two new books, one crime fiction and one true crime.

Kate, who struck gold with her Edgar nominated true crime Finding Amy, follows it up this month with Death Dealer. Then next month she follows her third Joe Burgess mystery, Redemption, which won the 2013 Maine Literary Award for Crime Fiction, with a new entry in the series, And Grant You Peace.

Crime fiction and true crime. I confess, I can more easily imagine juggling cats. Kate, how do you do it?

KATE FLORA: I can’t juggle. Tried to learn years ago, thinking it might help me draw a crowd at book signings, but every time I introduced the third ball, I hit myself in the head with it. Juggling being out, I went in search of other adventures, and while I was messing around trying to learn to write cops, true crime found me.

My first true crime, Finding Amy, I co-wrote to help out my friend Joe Loughlin, who was the lieutenant Spin.Doctor.inddin charge of CID at the Portland, Maine police department when Amy disappeared. Research led me to meet Lt. Pat Dorian who headed search and rescue for the Maine Warden Service. At the launch party for Finding Amy, Pat said to me, “So, Kate, when you’re ready, I’ve got another one for you.” It turned out to be a murder in Miramachi, New Brunswick.

True crime takes twice as long to write as a novel, and I have to spend years with images of real crime victims in my head. On the flip side, the research gets me away from desk into a world that is fascinating.

The story seemed compelling to me. First, the suspect threatened to harm the investigators’ families when they pressed him about his lies. They hadn’t found the victim’s body, which turned out to have been hidden in the woods. And they had only a small window of opportunity to find it when it had thawed enough to give off scent that the dogs could work on, but before bear emerging from hibernation found the body and consumed it.

It took seven years to get justice for the victim in that case, and for me to have a final ending for Death Dealer.

HALLIE: Tell us about the process you went through to write Death Dealer.

KATE: I started out by getting introduced to investigators who gave me access to the case. I spent hours reading files and doing interviews and watching videos and sitting in courtrooms. I ate a lot of Miramichi salmon, drove an ATV deep into the woods to see where the body was hidden. Learned about training of search and rescue dogs and cadaver dogs. As always, I am amazed at the generosity and openness of the people I interviewed to write this book.

HALLIE: Is there a ‘hero’ of that true story, as there is with your Joe Burgess novels?

KATE: As Joe Burgess likes to say—he doesn’t do it, his team does. In Death Dealer, it was the team of investigators who worked the case; the wardens who organized and participated in that search; and MESARD volunteers.

And then there were the friends of the victim, Maria Tanasichuk, who were terrified of the suspect yet came forward to speak on behalf of their murdered friend. The code of friendship triumphing over any code of silence.

HALLIE: What are the special challenges of making it up versus hewing to the facts?

KATE: Well, I think the challenge of making it up, in a world where our readers are often well-informed by other writers, and real world news stories, is trying to get it right.

AndGrantYouPeace-final-4When I was working on And Grant You Peace, the new Joe Burgess book that’s out next month, Burgess and Terry Kyle watch a young man they recognized walking down the street toward a convenience store with a suspicious bulge in his pocket that tells them he’s got a gun. I knew they were going to be going into that store, and that it was a very dangerous situation, so I e-mailed two police officers I use as resources, and called a third, and had them walk me through the scene.

That’s the challenge. Writing cops who feel credible.

HALLIE: Does one kind of writing enrich the other?

KATE:  Absolutely. What I’ve learned from all of my time with cops informs my writing when I am writing fictional cops.

When you flip that question, all of the time I’ve spent learning to reveal character to a reader, in shaping story so that it has a dramatic arc, in finding the right voice and stance to tell the story—those things have been invaluable when I’m writing a true story.

HALLIE: My hat is off to you, Kate. Years of work and a commitment to justice. And meanwhile you’re spinning out novels.

Kate: Thanks, Hallie. It’s going to be an exciting fall–never more so than when a reviewer reads one of the new books and really “gets” it. Lisa Haselton’s review of And Grant You Peace is amazing–just as breathless to read as the book itself. Here’s the link to that review:  http://lisahaseltonsreviewsandinterviews.blogspot.com/2014/09/review-of-and-grant-you-peace-by-kate.html

When Modesty is NOT a Virtue . . .

  There is a strong belief in New England   that you don’t “put yourself forward.” Especially, in a small town, the way I grew up, especially if you are a woman. Being proud is a sin. Being modest is a virtue. Talking about your accomplishments is simply not done.

This idea that praise goes to one’s head, that tooting your own horn is unseemly, makes it extremely difficult to perform those tasks that every writer these days must perform. Our publishers, our publicists, our colleagues, and everything in the blogosphere, the twittersphere, and the Facebook universe tells us that we must amass friends, followers, and fans, and constantly work those people so they’re primed to buy our books when those books appear.

Modestly, though. Subtly. While speaking softly. Join the conversation, we’re told. Comment on other people’s blogs. Twitter with the other birds gathered on an interesting branch, and many will flock to your branch as well. Because of my upbringing, because the strictures about not calling attention to myself are so deeply imbedded, I feel sometimes as though I am trying to make the leap into the current world of book promotion with a 500 pound weight attached. I try to jump and the weight snaps me back down.

I used to joke that I created my fan base one reader at a time, through conversations, through library talks and bookstore talks, through the students that I teach, the aspiring writers I try to encourage. Through good works and being a good citizen of the writing community. How old New England is that? The rest of the joke, of course, was that at this pace, I’d have to live for about 500 years to build a big enough base, and so would they.

Now, writers know, that isn’t enough. Those of us lucky enough to have traditional publishers, so that we can see our row of hardcover books growing on the shelf, so we can see people on the plane, subway or train actually holding our books, so that we know they are in libraries and will be available for years to come, no longer a short shelf-life commodity like a loaf of bread, also know that there are tens of thousands, perhaps hundreds of thousands of talented writers snapping at our heels, wanting our places in the publisher’s “list” and willing to do anything to get that spot. It’s no longer enough to write a good book. Now I have to work very hard to get YOU to want to read it. No. To get you, or your library, to BUY it.

So I wrestle my qualms to the mat. I silence those critical voices in my head. And I keep trying new things. Last summer, believing that there is power in sharing the podium with other talented writers I respect, I founded a blog group, MaineCrimeWriters.com, to talk about living and writing in Maine. The conversation has been fascinating. I’m sending e-mails to libraries. I’m setting up book events. Because I also write true crime, I’m arranging to speak in schools. Yesterday, I announced the “on sale” day of my newest Joe Burgess mystery to all my Facebook friends. I will learn twitter.

Last fall, I joined this group and I find myself in awe of the quality of the posts that my fellow Thalians are writing. I’m also grateful for all the sharing of ideas, opportunities, new things to try, new ways to learn. It’s awfully nice to know that Lise McClendon and Katy Munger have got my back. After I posted on Facebook, Lise sent me a quick note: include a link so they can buy the book. Marketing 101. I don’t know if I got a D or an F. But we’re all students of this brave new world. And if I look at it as an adventure, and not a chore, I may still have two left feet, but my “Buy My Book” dance will get better.

Just so you won’t feel left out, here’s the cover of Redemption, and a lovely review from Booklist. Follow this link, or ask your Indie to order it. Ask for it at your local library. Become my Facebook friend.

Redemption.  Flora, Kate (Author)   Mar 2012. 366 p.  Five Star, hardcover, $25.95. (9781594153792).

When Detective Sergeant Joe Burgess of the Portland (Maine) Police Department finds his friend Reggie Libby drowned in the harbor, he is determined to bring the killer to justice. Reggie, a Vietnam vet who was mentally ill and had fallen on hard times, had apparently started a new job recently. Joe and his colleagues work to determine his place of employment and his movements before his death by interviewing Reggie’s fellow streetpeople and his relatives, including his vindictive former wife and indifferent son. On the home front, Joe’s live-in girlfriend wants to adopt two foster children, and Joe doesn’t feel ready to be a parent. As always, Joe immerses himself in his case, causing problems in his personal life. Framed by the challenges streetpeople face in large cities, this compelling, fast-paced police procedural offers a complex plot, rich with details of conducting a murder investigation and insight into the rigors of the cop’s life. — Sue O’Brien